Hillsdale County "sits on an island" with most emergency responders operating on an outdated VHF radio system that surrounding counties have scrapped in favor of the state-wide 800 MHz state radio system.
The Hillsdale County Board of Commissioners began looking into upgrading the outdated system countywide earlier this year and opted to take a nearly $10 million bond proposal to the voters Tuesday, which failed.
"As a firefighter and AEMT, as well as the public safety chair, I am disappointed in the outcome," Commissioner Brad Benzing said Wednesday. "We have been discussing adopting 800 MHz radios since at least 2008, so that makes 14 years at a minimum. The proposal that was brought to the voters included an engineering study by an independent consultant, a sub-committee that looked at the proposed costs and vetted what methods might be used to pay for the project as well as proposals from two radio vendors."
The proposal sent to the voters Tuesday would have spread the cost of the upgrade over the entire population of the county and not just the individual units of government that sponsor police, fire or EMS agencies, Benzing said.
It also would have replaced the aged and failing towers that the current VHF system uses throughout the county, Benzing said.
"The problem of interoperability with neighboring counties is not going away," Benzing said. "The proposed system is the standard for the entire state of Michigan as well as our neighboring states. Our sheriff's department already has purchased this via funding from both the state and federal budgets and they got new hand held and vehicle radios."
The Hudson Fire Department, Hudson Area Ambulance, Addison Fire and EMS and Somerset Fire and EMS have already transitioned to the 800 MHz service because of their operations in Lenawee and/or Jackson counties.
"The burden now falls to the governmental units that sponsor agencies that have not already made the investment on their own to upgrade their base, vehicle and hand held radios as well as fire pagers," Benzing said. "Central Dispatch, which is a department of county government, will be tasked with looking at their income from the 911 telephone surcharge as well as pursuing funding from a future state budget line item to finance the infrastructure upgrades such as new towers. We will of course continue to pursue any possible grant funding, however our finance sub-committee noted that their were few opportunities in that regard that would cover all the costs of the needed infrastructure and equipment."
The subject of using ARPA funds continues to come up, Benzing said, however even the county were to commit 100-percent of the funds they have received it would not cover the infrastructure costs let alone radios and pagers for the individual departments.
"Part of the discussion involving the county using any of tier ARPA funds needs to also include all of the cities, villages and townships who also received funds from that program and what their commitment from those funds to financing this crucial upgrade will be," Benzing said. "I do not see this issue coming back on the November 2022 ballot due to the overwhelming no vote unless there is a very strong appeal from the public to the board of commissioners to do so."
This article originally appeared on Hillsdale Daily News: 800 MHz proposal failed at the ballot. What's next?